English classes: the key to integration

by Dr Jenny Philimore For many years now politicians and the tabloids have pointed to so-called self-segregation of migrants and their alleged reluctance to speak English as responsible for their lack of integration into economy and society in the UK. As a result much policy focus has been placed on trying to encourage cross-community connections and linking applications for citizenship to ability to speak English. New research from the Institute for Research into Superdiversity, University of Birmingham, and the University of Cardiff provides evidence showing that for refugees at least, there is no reality behind the rhetoric. Using survey data – the [more]

Latin American Regimes

  An overview of a troubled past   By Tania Farias “From the deep crucible of the homeland. The people's voices rise up. The new day comes over the horizon. All Chile breaks out in song…” claims the first verse of We Will Triumph, a supporting song for the Popular Unity coalition led by Salvador Allende in Chile. According to the Revolutionary Democracy journal (2003) the Chilean songwriter and activist Víctor Jara sang this song defiantly after having been violently tortured in the Chilean Stadium (renamed later Víctor Jara Stadium). He had been arrested – and five days later assassinated - because of his [more]

Asylum seeker pregnancy: a very sad situation

By Tania Farias Pregnancy is a very special state for a woman, one which requires complex and specialist care to assure the well–being of both, the mother and the unborn child. Pregnancy is also a time to share and be cheerful with family and friends. However, not every woman can enjoy such a protective support and some of them are exposed to very unstable situations. A pregnant asylum seeker under the support of sections 4, 95 or 98 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 will be offered accommodation and financial support but she won’t be exempt from UKBA dispersal policies, meaning [more]

Reflections: Through the eyes of a refugee

By Mercedes What do I hear when I listen to the city, when I look to the future in this place that surrounds me? I see a neighbourhood of multiple languages, cultures, sounds, and fragrances. I see a woman wishing to tell the city that she and her child crossed the ocean and several continents to feel secure. She did not want to hear the screams of people running from the effects of war, hunger and disease. She wants to explain that she doesn’t understand what happened. Her town was peaceful before the modern tanks and men in strange clothes speaking strange [more]

Each journey entails a hundred possibilities

By Kate Monkhouse Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) works with refugees and other forcibly displaced people, promoting their rights and providing a range of direct services. In London, JRS UK runs a weekly day centre at its base in Wapping, where each week up to 120 refugees come for lunch, some practical help and to share the joys and sadness of life in this country. In carrying out its activities JRS UK works in partnership with like-minded organisations, such as English PEN, a free speech and literature charity that campaigns to defend and promote free expression. English PEN’s trainers have run several creative [more]

From Sri Lanka With Surgical Skills

Vicky Ilankovan interviews her father Since I was eight I wanted to be a doctor. I still remember using pencils as injection cylinders and giving people sachets of powder from the kitchen to make them feel better. The concept of doing something to help people has always fascinated me. However, the year that I was to enter medical school in Sri Lanka was the year the policy of standardisation came into force. This meant that Tamils needed substantially higher marks than Sinhalese in order to get into university. For example, Tamils needed 250 points to get into medical school whereas the Sinhalese [more]


Where there is no sunlight: one worker’s story

By: Khadija Najlaou

A domestic worker from Morocco, Najilaou is now working in London and tells the story of her struggle for rights and dignity.

I am 44 years old but I have only spent seven years at school. My family was very poor and they couldn’t afford to send me to school so I left just after primary school. My father earned 200 DHS/week (approx. £34) as a security guard. I have three brothers and four sisters and sometimes we had nothing to eat.

At the age of 15, I was forced to work in a garment factory 13 hours a day 6 days a week. My salary was less than £4 a week. Life became even harder when my father passed away in 1995. I didn’t even see sunlight in the factory. I felt like a slave trapped in a building with no way to escape because my family would starve if I didn’t work.

In 2000, my mother became very ill. I couldn’t afford her hospitalization, so in 2003 I decided to work abroad as a domestic worker. I went to Dubai because this was the fastest way to secure a job in another country. I worked for a good family there, but the hours were long for only £180 a month. In 2004, I came to the UK but just two years later, my mother passed away. I begged my employer to let me go home, but she refused. She said there was no need for me to go home because my mother was already dead. All I could do was cry.

In 2007, A friend told me that in the UK I had the right to change employer. I found a new job, and then another one, but I was still working long hours. When I became ill the doctor said I was overworked and advised me to rest. But how could I rest? I asked my employer if I could go to a friend’s house and rest. She wasn’t happy. She put all my clothes in a black bin bag and I was fired. Things didn’t get better after that. My next employer accused me of stealing £225 and a very expensive leather jacket. She later found the money and the jacket, but I felt I couldn’t stay after that. I was lucky to find another employer shortly after that so I was able to renew my visa. However, everyday it became harder to work in isolation with no voice, no rights and nowhere to go.

Finally, in 2009 I joined Justice for Domestic Workers (J4DW). It’s a self-help, advocacy and campaigning organisation run by migrant domestic workers, representing more than 300 London-based domestic workers from all over the world. We may all come from different countries but we share similar stories of suffering back home and different forms of abuse in the UK. Slavery is very much alive in the life of many migrant domestic workers. We work very long hours for very low salaries trying to support families back home.

At J4DW, we work together to improve our living and working conditions.We campaign to be properly recognized and respected as workers because we contribute to the economy of both our home and host country.

We are now campaigning to reverse the recent changes made to the UK visa conditions of overseas domestic workers. Since April 6th 2012 migrant domestic workers coming to the UK with their employers will be given a 6-month visa and after this time they have to leave the country. They don’t have the right to change employer, even if their employer is abusive. Previous rules allowed us to change jobs and move to a different household without losing our immigrant status.

These changes sadden me because even if I won’t be affected (I was in the UK prior to April 6), they will leave many of my fellow domestic workers open to abuse and exploitation. If their employer doesn’t pay their wages, makes them work 18 hours a day seven days a week or beats them, they won’t be able to access help. And if they leave the house and try to find another job, they will become undocumented and risk deportation. I am fighting along with my fellow domestic workers to stop this unjust situation.

J4DW (along with Kalayaan, Unite the Union, TUC, Anti-slavery International, Christian Aid, Amnesty International, and Children Unite) has been campaigning for the ratification of the Domestic Workers Convention 189. UK was one of 8 countries including Sudan to abstain from supporting an International Labour Organisation convention on protection for domestic workers, claiming there were already good safeguards in place, despite these protections having been removed.